If Pankaj Advani has created an Indian presence in the world of billiards, Aditya Mehta has been responsible for putting India on the map in the snooker world. In the 2008/2009 season, Mehta became the first Indian to play on the main snooker tour since Yasin Merchant in the early 90′s. More accolades followed: Mehta won medals in the 2010 Asian Games in China, and last year defeated a string of high-profile opponents in the Shanghai Masters and Event 9. The pinnacle of his career came this April, when he won the 2012 Asian Snooker Championship with a 7–5 victory over Pankaj Advani. In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Mehta speaks about his career and his expectations from the future:
Q. First you won the National title, then you became the lone Indian to win a match in the World Championship and now you’re the Asian Champion. It has been a fantastic journey; how does it feel to have reached the top?
Mehta: It feels good but these are all just stepping stones in the process of becoming a top pro. The Asian title is a great confidence booster and it’s very important for the sport in our country. I hope it raises awareness about the game and brings us in the limelight.
Q. Would you say you are in your best form this year?
Mehta: It’s been a major learning curve and the pro tour has toughened me up. At times I have played brilliantly this year but the key is that my ‘b’ and ‘c’ game are winning me matches as well. I’ve got a winning momentum and I just want to keep working hard and learning all the time.
Q. How difficult has the whole journey been?
Mehta: Well, I must admit that it’s been very, very challenging; but then again, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have the opportunity to do what I love for a living. That should be worth all the struggles. Snooker is a really tough game because it’s so mental; when I was a a kid, I found it all intensely frustrating. But I kept at it because I am a perfectionist – I know I wanted to get this done and I didn’t allow myself to relax. I pushed myself very hard in practice and after years and years of failures and setbacks, something clicked. I guess all those crazy hours of practice finally paid off. I have come to the realization that in the end, no amount of talent or luck can make up for hard work.
Q. How was the experiencing of playing in the World Championships? Did it help you to establish the belief to pull off the Asian Title?
Mehta: I won’t say it was just the world championships. What won me the Asian title was, mainly, experience. The years spent abroad training and competing with the best, learning to accept the failures, and constantly working on them and improving – all of it helped in the end. I didn’t play my best at the Asian event. But I’ve learnt to raise my game when the situation demands it and that’s what I did.
Q. Who or what has constituted your support system through you career?
Mehta: My family has been the pillar of my success. Also, my club, the Chembur Gymkhana, have supported me since I was 12 years old, providing me with great practice facilities for free. My coaches – P J Nolan (current) and Sanjay Sawant (junior days) have played a huge part in my success too. And how can I forget all the senior players who have been kind enough to guide me through the years. In addition, the support of my employers Indian Oil Corporation Ltd has been priceless.
Q. Do you think you can be the brand ambassador of snooker in India and help make the game popular in the country?
Mehta: Why not? India needs someone to bring this game into the limelight. And if i can do anything to help, I’d be very happy. The most important thing would be for me to perform consistently at the international level and rise up the ladder. We’ll see where things go from there.
Q. Last week you clinched the Kolkata Open title. Do you think this has been by far the best year for you performance-wise?
Mehta: For sure 2011-12 has been the best season of my career. I’ve won almost every event in India that I have participated in. My confidence is great and I need to carry that into the pro tour. There’s lots more to learn and I’m excited about the next few seasons.
Q. What tournaments are you scheduled to participate in in the near future?
Mehta: I’ve got one more all-India invitational event in Baroda next week, after which I’ll be heading to Sheffield for the start of the 2012-13 season. The Wuxi Classic and Australian Goldfields Open Qualifiers are the first 2 events after which I head to Bangkok for the World Six Red Grand Prix.